On Horses and Bayonets

by Mackubin Thomas Owens

If the president was trying to confirm his bona fides Monday night as a defense expert while calling those of Mitt Romney into question, I believe he failed. Not only was his snarky condescension off-putting, but also the point he was trying to make was lost in his show-boating about aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

I suppose the image he was trying to evoke was Polish cavalry charging German tanks in 1939, thus painting Romney as in over his head about defense issues. But if they got this image at all, most viewers would have concluded that the president was saying that the Navy is obsolete. That’s not going to help him in places where ships are built or in places where those who man those ships live when they’re not deployed.

If he hadn’t tried to show off, the president could have driven home the true point that more ships don’t necessarily mean more firepower. As Bob Work, currently the undersecretary of the Navy pointed out in an article several years ago, the smaller U.S. fleet of the ’90s could deliver much more firepower than the 600-ship Navy of the ’80s. The fact that he couldn’t make this point makes me doubt his expertise on military affairs. Corpse-man anyone?

And as an old Marine infantryman, let me ask: What’s this cavalier dismissal of the bayonet? The prospect of being on the receiving end of cold steel can have an immense psychological impact on an enemy.

— Mackubin Thomas Owens is a professor at the Naval War College and editor of Orbis, the journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He is a Marine-infantry veteran of the Vietnam War.

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